Why People Trust Sharing Economy Strangers More Than Their Colleagues

By Mareike Möhlmann

Trust is a crucial element in any relationship, not least when financial transactions are taking place. The rise of sharing economy platforms such as Airbnb and Uber – where you pay a stranger for a service – are especially dependent on trust. Are they who they say they are? Will they deliver the service that they’ve promised?

With the use of some key digital features, trust is being built between people that have never met each other. In fact, research I’ve carried out shows that, when they are designed well, sharing economy services can build greater trust between strangers than you’d expect between colleagues.

These were the findings of recent research into people that use the ride-sharing platform BlaBlaCar. The service is generally used for city-to-city travel across the world. It connects drivers and people who need a ride, bringing hitchhiking into the digital age.

We found that 88% of respondents highly trusted a member with a full digital profile.

 

The study is co-authored with Arun Sundarajan, a professor at New York University, Frédéric Mazzella, BlaBlaCar’s CEO, and Verena Butt D’Espous, BlaBlaCar’s head of communications. We conducted a survey of 18,289 members of BlaBlaCar across 11 countries in Europe. We found that 88% of respondents highly trusted a member with a full digital profile.

Surprisingly, this is higher than people’s trust levels in colleagues or neighbours. Indeed, using the same measures, only 58% of respondents said they would highly trust a colleague and 42% would highly trust a neighbour. In fact, when it came to trusting fully-profiled strangers on this ride-sharing site, levels were nearly as high as trust in family members (94% indicate high trust) or friends (92% indicate high trust).

This trust in strangers hinges on how they present themselves online. BlaBlaCar’s recipe to create trust is a combination of features. Among others, these include short bios of who you are, as well as the possibility to declare personal information like your phone number and e-mail address on your online profile. And profiles are also often connected to members’ other online profiles such as Facebook or LinkedIn.

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Mareike Möhlmann is Assistant Professor of Information Systems & Management group at Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, specialising on collaborative consumption (sharing economy services, platforms, online consumer behaviour, and digital trust).

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